Water is the New Oil

Roma Luciw
November 27, 2006

The colossal cost of fixing crumbling water infrastructure in the developed world has opened the door to government privatization.

Water delivery systems in the industrial world are in “dire need” of repair, says a report released Monday by CIBC World Markets Inc. At least one-fifth of America’s municipal wastewater treatment facilities do not comply with federal regulations and in some U.S. cities, more than half of the water headed to consumers is lost along the way.

Continue reading “Water is the New Oil”

Hopes for Dam Removal

All you dam water people;

I was not aware that the dam removal movement in California had reached such levels of success—see article below. People now see the time when Hetch Hetchy will be restored—2013. If this can happen in other parts of our state, we should have a movement in Sonoma County to remove Warm Springs dam. (Such a movement could provide added impetus to remove the Potter Valley Contraption too. All dams must go.)

1. The water in Lake Sonoma is probably half as much as originally planned due to more siltation than predicted (Thanks Terry!).
2. The water is contaminated with mercury and MTBEs.
3. The dam was paid for by all Sonoma County property owners yet SCWA plans to sell that water to other people.
4. That part of the county is extremely picturesque and I assume that the valley that was sacrificed to make the lake was similarly picturesque (I never visited the valley before the flooding so I’m assuming).

Based on just these four points (I would guess that there are other compelling reasons) the whole thing has been an expensive boondoggle and it’s time for it to be torn down and to restore the natural ecology of the area.


America to regain lost paradise

A California valley disappeared under a reservoir 80 years ago. Dreams of reclaiming it are now coming true

Paul Harris in New York
Sunday November 19, 2006
The Observer

It is the Atlantis of modern American environmentalism: a lost paradise of unsurpassable beauty in the California highlands that sank beneath the waves of a reservoir almost a century ago.

When the Hetch Hetchy valley – often called the prettier twin of its famous neighbour, Yosemite – was flooded in the Twenties, no one thought it would be seen again. Its loss was mourned by the nascent environment movement, and especially by the naturalist John Muir, who had fought to save what he called a ‘mountain temple’ because of its spectacular scenery.

Now hopes are high that Hetch Hetchy will re-emerge in one of the biggest restoration projects on American soil. It could cost billions and take years, but its proponents say it would herald a new age of restoring damaged eco-systems. ‘It is an idea whose time has come. This is a signal of hope. This will show that the Earth can restore itself,’ said Ron Good, founder of Restore Hetch Hetchy, the group spearheading the project.

There are certainly grounds for optimism. Knocking down the dam and restoring the valley to wilderness has been an ambition of many people ever since it disappeared. A concerted effort in the late Eighties came to nothing, but this summer the California state government published the findings of a huge probe into the viability of the project. Its conclusion: that restoring Hetch Hetchy was both viable and potentially desirable.
Environmentalists have also been given an unexpected boost from Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The film star won a second term based mostly on a dramatic shift towards being green and has said the project needs more research. ‘The political winds are moving in the right direction,’ said Good.

The scientific winds are pretty much already there. The valley has lain under 90 metres (nearly 300ft) of water for eight decades and the first task will be to knock down the huge dam that flooded Hetch Hetchy in the first place. Then the landscape underneath will have to be restored to its wilderness state, allowing animals and plants to flourish. Some scientists favour a phased restoration, draining the reservoir bit by bit and experimenting to see which methods work best to keep out non-native plants. ‘There are many unknowns. At the moment we really don’t know what exactly will work best unless we give it a go,’ said Joy Zedler, an ecologist at the University of Wisconsin, who has created a phased restoration plan.

Scientists hope to learn much about how to restore a landscape from what is likely to be little more than a moonscape of mud when first revealed. That knowledge will boost reclamation projects around the world. Zedler believes they will amass information that will be used globally, even as other countries – such as China, with its Three Gorges project – keep building big dams. ‘They’ll knock that dam down and restore it too one day. The next generation is going to be the restoration generation,’ said Zedler.

No one is pretending that recreating Hetch Hetchy will be easy. The soil will probably have changed after being soaked in water and covered in sediment. The rare lichens that covered the cliff walls will have died. There will be a ‘dirty ring’ around the whole valley similar to a tide mark or, more prosaically, a ring of dirt around a bath tub. The biggest task would be knocking down the dam. The tallest one previously dismantled was just 20m high, one-fifth of the height of Hetch Hetchy. Removing it will generate about half a million cubic metres of concrete and cost at least $900m.

There are other issues. About 2.4 million residents of San Francisco and the Bay area use water from the reservoir, and it generates vital hydroelectric power. To keep water flowing to consumers, there will have to be a ‘re-plumbing’ of much of central California’s water supply, and a new source of electricity will need to be found. Official estimates vary on the total cost of the project – from $3bn to $10bn – though environmentalists put the bill at ‘just’ $1bn.

Opponents say the high costs show that the project is a non-starter, but its backers say the opposite: if money is the sole object, they will find ways to get it. There is certainly huge optimism among supporters of Hetch Hetchy, who now include celebrities such as Harrison Ford, who has helped to make a documentary backing the plan. ‘I get more optimistic every day,’ said Zedler.

Knocking down dams is increasingly accepted by Americans, more and more of whom see them as unnecessary and ecologically damaging. In the Olympic National Park near Seattle in Washington state, two large dams are being taken down in a restoration project costing $185m. It is scheduled to begin in 2009. In the Florida Everglades a staggering $10.5bn has been set aside to restore the threatened wetlands landscape.

If the Hetch Hetchy project does succeed, California would end up with a second version of Yosemite, the famous national park that attracts three million visitors a year. It will be a natural wonder and a paradise for hikers and climbers. The valley was once full of savanna and oak and pine forests, with waterfalls and huge cliffs in dramatic colours. It was also home to the Paiute and Miwuk Native American tribes, and its name is derived from their word for a type of edible grass that used to grow there.

When Muir, who founded the Sierra Club environmental group, visited the valley he often described its beauty in quasi-religious terms. When first told of plans to dam it he replied: ‘Dam Hetch Hetchy? [One might] as well dam for water tanks the people’s cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man.’

Good agrees with those sentiments. He believes work could start on the project as soon as 2013. ‘This is happening. This is for real. I will feel wonderful when I visit it for the first time. People all round the world will applaud,’ he said.

Water Board’s Scoping Meeting on Streams and Wetlands Protection

Attached is the power point presentation that will be the outlined agenda for the Nov. 30th meeting in Sonoma County. As you know, Districts 1 & 2 have undertaken research to determine if a Basin Plan Amendment would be necessary and if so what it should include to protect water quality in streams and wetlands, including flood areas and other issues.

This is one scoping session in a series.

Apologies if you’ve seen this.

Have a wonderful Thank – filled T-Bird weekend,

Streams and Wetlands Protection Powerpoint Presentation

PG&E Botches Eel River Project Accord

By John Driscoll/The Times-Standard
November 19, 2006

Company diverted more water than allowed from 2004 to 2006

The Pacific Gas and Electric Co. for nearly two years has diverted substantially more water from the Eel River to the Russian River than is allowed in a license agreement negotiated over two decades.

The discrepancy wasn’t discovered until this summer, when the California Department of Fish and Game reviewed the schedule of diversions made by the company’s Potter Valley Project. PG&E fessed up to the problem, and even recently contacted the media about the conversation taking place among regulators.

Unlike nearly every other river diversion system in the West, the Potter Valley Project does not have real-time gauges that show how it’s being operated. That information isn’t made public until a year later. Such a monitoring system won’t be in place until December 2007 at least, and only the agencies have immediate access to the information.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission amended PG&E’s license for the project in 2004, after about 20 years of wrangling over diversions to the East Branch of the Russian River for grape growers and flows to the Eel River for salmon and steelhead. The commission is now looking into the compliance of the project since 2004.

“We’re reviewing the allegations,” said FERC spokeswoman Celeste Miller.

Between 5 billion and 13 billion gallons of water that would have flowed down the Eel River were instead diverted through the project, on average about 33 percent more than was allowed. The past three years have been wet, however, and there were no apparent adverse effects on the river’s salmon. But the excessive diversions could have drawn down Lake Pillsbury above Scott and Van Arsdale dams to levels that would have threatened the Eel if a drought set in.

PG&E spokesman David Eisenhauer said the snafu was the result of a misinterpretation of FERC’s license conditions.

“It was an honest mistake on PG&E personnel’s part that has been taken very seriously and has been corrected,” Eisenhauer said.

The National Marine Fisheries Service, which set flows meant to at least partially mimic natural flow conditions in the Eel through the license, said it’s not likely to pursue penalties against the company. That’s because PG&E managed to meet the required flows to the Eel River, said Dick Butler, area office supervisor for the service.

“I think they were confused and made some assumptions on how they were operating,” Butler said.

Butler said PG&E has recently done an analysis to show how Lake Pillsbury has filled in with more sediment than it previously believed, and so holds less water. The company may be paving the way to press for changes in the fisheries service’s requirements for the project, he said. That is a “non-starter,” Butler said, since the service has predicted how much the lake will fill in all the way out until 2027.

Humboldt County Supervisor Jimmy Smith said that charts specifying the changes made through the relicensing agreement haven’t been forthcoming, despite requests made to the fisheries service long ago. Whether or not PG&E made a mistake, he said, its project hasn’t been operated under the agreement that took two decades for fish advocates on the North Coast, tribes, irrigators in Potter Valley, the company, agencies and environmental groups to hammer out.

“They shouldn’t get off the hook because the fact is they didn’t comply,” Smith said.

The Real Cost of SR’s Discharges

The PD carried articles on wastewater storage pond creation as a remedy to discharge issue – PD nov 15 and today.

Is it appropriate to point out that the current ratepayer is carrying a large part of the financial burden for this project (and others – Geysers pipeline, and efforts to evade regulation at a rate of over 2 million/year) – while new development, which is responsible for the need for these infrastructure additions, does not carry it’s share of the financial burden?

Also, several of these new storage ponds are indicated for the flood plain area near the treatment plant. For each acre of land used for a pond there is one less acre of useable flood plain, thus exacerbating flooding problems. This seems kind of crazy.

Should not these issues be pointed out to those now paying the bills.

Alan Levine

SR Discharges Letter

Below is an important letter from SCWA to Santa Rosa, 10/20/06. Is there a response from Santa Rosa?

There are reports that this letter expressing SCWA concerns about water quality and the impacts of Santa Rosa’s wastewater discharges to the Russian River above the intake pumps for our water was withdrawn at the behest of SR. The concerns delineated in the letter are once again relevant to the current BPU hearings on Russian River discharges, as well as in the Sonoma County General Plan 2020 and DEIR, and the draft Urban Water Management Plan.

Read it and weep. But you may not want to keep drinking the water.

What has happened to the concerns expressed by SCWA about water quality, which echoes concerns raised by the water drinking public and ratepayers for at least 8 years?

What are Santa Rosa’s real plans for avoiding the upcoming disasters of releasing “emerging toxics” into the Russian River, especially when the federal and state government will (not, “might”) issue regulations far in excess of what the current WWTP can control for these toxics?

As SCWA acknowledges, “The only treatment necessary beyond the natural filtering provided by the sand and gravel materials along the Russian River is: 1)the addition of chlorine to provide a residual amount of disinfectant throughout the transmission system; and 2)the addition of sodium hydroxide to adjust the pH of the water. The Agency and its customers have not had to share in the expense of constructing and operating a surface water treatment plant. The potential impact of a new wastewater discharge location on the Russian River, which could jeopardize the way the Agency’s existing water supply facilities are operated, needs to be considered. ”

How come the draft Sonoma County General Plan 2020 and its DEIR have not proposed any protections for the filtration and water storage capacities of the
Russian River gravel bed aquifer, which is the heart of our water filtration system?

How much longer will the “wink and nod” politics of Russian River health issues continue?

Who will pay for repairs to these continuing damages to our water supply, no less fisheries restoration and recreational use of our great rivers? When will we really change our watershed management practices, as if we had to drink this water for the next 150 years?

We welcome the press’ critical inquiries and reporting on this, so that our citizens know what is happening with their water, wastewater, health, taxes and ratepayer dollars.


David Keller

Randy Poole of SCWA’s letter to City of Santa Rosa [excerpts–the full letter can be seen earlier in the Activists Corner]:

Dear Ms. Fruiht,

The Agency and its customers (including the City) have benefited from having water supply facilities that provide a high quality source of drinking water that is relatively inexpensive to operate. The only treatment necessary beyond the natural filtering provided by the sand and gravel materials along the Russian River is: 1)the addition of chlorine to provide a residual amount of disinfectant throughout the transmission system; and 2)the addition of sodium hydroxide to adjust the pH of the water. The Agency and its customers have not had to share in the expense of constructing and operating a surface water treatment plant.

The concerns brought up in these comment letters are still valid and currently there are additional concerns that need to be addressed associated with the emerging issue of pharmaceuticals and personal care products that may remain in treated wastewater. Pharmaceutically active compounds (e.g., caffeine, nicotine, and aspirin) and numerous personal care products (such as fragrances and sunscreens) and drugs from a wide spectrum of therapeutic classes can enter waterways through a variety of routes including treated wastewater.

The Agency recommends that instead of looking at disposal into the Russian River that the City view this wastewater as a valuable resource that can be utilized to offset potable water use through urban reuse to directly offset Russian River water and for agricultural reuse (such as that being studied for the proposed North Sonoma County Agricultural Reuse Project) which can help reduce the reliance on groundwater and help reduce the need for surface water diversions.

Sincerely, Randy D. Poole

SR’s Water and Wastewater Plans

Water Watchers:

I’ve been extremely busy with my faire, which will thankfully be over in ten days, and I’ve neglected to keep you all posted on today’s very important BPU meeting (Thurs. At 1:30 starting in Mayor’s Conference Room and then moving to City Council Chambers). Of course it cannot be a coincidence that the BPU is discussing four major new documents in one meeting right before a major holiday. (Perhaps the recent election has something to do with this. Could they be ramming all their projects through before new BPU members are appointed?)

They will be talking about recommended storage sites for their irrigation program, their Draft Screening Report for “discharge compliance” (ie, river discharge, which, by the way, is not being pursued to accommodate new growth, they say), their new Water Master Plan and Wastewater Master Plan. I have obtained most of the documents (the latter two cost $235) but have had no time to read much as yet.

I believe there will be formal action on these at their Dec. 5th meeting. The following projects have been recommended to be dropped from further consideration from their “Discharge Compliance Project”:

Direct discharge site D2. This is the Windsor site just upstream of SCWA Wohler facilities and River Front Park. (near Windsor River Rd.) The other direct discharge sites (Forestville, Healdsburg, and Alexander Valley) will continue to be studied.

Indirect discharge will also be dropped along with the “No discharge, 100% reuse project”.

BPU packets are on their website, or if you come to the meeting, they have hard copies of their agenda materials available. Also, you can download the Screening Report from their website.


PS: Board of Supervisors will consider the new Urban Water Management Plan on Dec. 5th at their meeting in the AM.

Santa Rosa Creek Plan and Toxic Wastes in Water

In part, my response to the Toxics in the steam issue, was somewhat flippant. The type and levels of toxics is not news and is a serious problem – and needs to be looked at by the City and administering agencies.

As far as the City of Santa Rosa goes, the City Council, at great cost to the waters in it’s sphere of influence and economic cost to the City has abdicated understanding and control of the situation to consultants and the BPU. This has put the City in the position of spending great sums of money not to solve pollutant problems.

Addressing, both, the City NPDES Waste Water Permit conditions and the toxic issue (as they are linked by the permits and by emperical interaction) will take organized action by the City, responsible agency, and clean water advocates. The City Wide Creek Master Plan and associated DEIR are open for comment.

The City Wide Creek Master Plan and DEIR must address degraded conditions and 303 (d) listings of Santa Rosa Creek and it’s tributaries and how the Master Plan and the City Storm Water Plan will effectively address the issue of pollutant control and pollutant inputs. Also, the Master Plan and DEIR must address the issue and effects of Santa Rosa Creek discharges to the Laguna.

The fact that the City of Santa Rosa’s Stormwater Plan is not enforceable or effective must be a consideration in the above noted action is a great place for the City and all interested parties to address these issues and the inter-relationship of this issue with the Waste Water NPDES permit.

It is not clear if the City Council should be approached now on the issue of directions and choices – or – if more work should be done by agency and the City Wide Creek Plan to clarify some issues.

Help Defend the Listing of Coho Salmon

I am asking for monetary support to help defend the listing of Coho salmon as Endangered under the California Endangered Species Act.

Recently a trial court spurned a legal challenge to the listing of Coho salmon as endangered under the California Endangered Species Act – CESA..

The CESA listing for Coho is important and provides enforceable language to support land use and water use activity for recovery of the species (See Coho Recovery Guidelines at the DFG website). Actions include language for stream protection, water use and diversion, and some logging regs.

Ag and timber interests have chosen to appeal the lower court decision and challenge the listing in the State Court of Appeals. See message, below, from CalTrout – litigation lead.

Defending our position will cost money. I would like to raise $2,000 to add to the $5,000 to $7,000 already committed – with a total goal of about $10,000.

Please help support our position(and our rivers and fish) in the courts with a donation.

Please write a check to CalTrout for $50, $100, or more. Identify your check for “Coho defense”.

Please send checks to me – or – CalTrout at addresses noted below in this e-mail.

If you mail a check directly to CalTrout, please let me know so I can keep track of funds and checks.

Thank You!

The appeal for the coho litigation has been filed (see the attached notice).

The most notable things are:
1) CFA et al. (the petitioners and plaintiffs) are now represented by Pacific Legal Foundation
2) California Chamber of Commerce, Greater Eureka Chamber of Commerce and Save our Scott and Shasta Valleys, Inc. are not listed on the appeal as petitioners and plaintiffs
3) The petitioners and plaintiffs have elected to proceed without using the trial courts record (reporter’s transcript or clerk’s transcript) but rather by creating their own by appendix
4) The petitioners and plaintiffs opening brief is due no later than 70 days (12/20/06) from this notice of appeal, and ours is due within 30 days after theirs (1/19/07)
5) My understanding is that if we win on appeal and it is published the case will then be precedent setting

We will need to raise additional funds to meet this challenge and might also want some organizations/groups to file Amicus Briefs.

Please let me know who is willing to assist in this effort. We have far too much invested to discontinue with this important effort to protect fish and watersheds.

Best wishes,

Thomas J. Weseloh
Northcoast Manager, California Trout
1976 Archer Rd.
McKinleyville, CA 95519
707 839-1056 phone
707 839-1054 fax

Alan Levine
Coast Action Group

Waterborne Drugs A Growing Concern

By Mike Lee

JOHN GIBBINS / Union-Tribune

Water samples from Otay are prepared for analysis at the San Diego Water Department’s water quality laboratory.

At homes across San Diego, thousands of residents take medications each day for everything from Alzheimer’s disease to sexual dysfunction. But their bodies don’t absorb 100 percent of each drug. The unused portion is excreted and – literally – flushed down the toilet along with whatever outdated pills that people might dump into the bowl for disposal.

From there, the medicine mixes with cleaning agents, hormones, plasticizers and a plethora of other compounds in the city’s wastewater.

Under a controversial proposal to be considered by a City Council committee tomorrow, some of the water treated at San Diego’s North City Water Reclamation Plant would be purified enough to become drinking water. The effort is designed to reduce the region’s reliance on imported water.

But what about drugs and other possibly dangerous substances that might remain in the recycled water?

Water providers don’t routinely check for pharmaceuticals, personal-care products or numerous other substances that scientists call “emerging contaminants.” Sewage plants aren’t designed to remove them. Neither federal nor state agencies regulate them in water supplies. And California hasn’t taken some of the most basic steps to keep them out of the state’s waters.

Continue reading “Waterborne Drugs A Growing Concern”